Embrace the lifelong learning grind

Create a DIY study program to tackle your curiosity

kiran umapathy
Jun 17, 2018 · 3 min read
Photo: Kinga Cichewicz

If you’re reading this, I assume you buy into the idea of lifelong learning as something you need to do. People are valuing it more and more because of faster technology cycles, but if you think about it, the smartest people have always taken this approach, and not just out of fear of being left behind.

But how do you truly embody it? It’s just not as simple as signing up for a bunch of online courses that you’ll never finish.

Looking back, my academic success in K–12 wasn’t because I was any more gifted or talented than other students at my school. It was the structure and strategy I developed that made the difference.

Without putting in too much thought about what worked best, I routinely made systems to study for different types of tests. For rote memorization, I had a two-column setup that allowed me to quiz myself backwards and forwards. For more thoughtful assignments, I would handwrite the first draft and revise digitally. In college, I wasn’t super concerned with top grades (sorry Mom + Dad!), but I distinctly remember bringing back my old study techniques for a boring accounting exam just to see what happened (I got the highest grade in my section!). Unfortunately, I decided I wasn’t willing, nor did I have the interest to put in this effort consistently.

These days I find myself hyper-distracted like anyone else (thanks attention engineers), so I decided to learn as much as I could about focus. I took a Zen Habits Mindful Focus course, and read several books* that went into great detail about what’s happening in our brains and practical things we could do to improve our attention and focus.

After completing this, I realized that essentially what I did was give myself an independent study semester. If I listened to some talks and made sure to follow up with exercises, it’d have structure and I could say I knew a thing or two about the topic.

I’ve decided my next semester will be about storytelling. I’m not terrible at it, but I certainly don’t feel like a master and I can’t say my day-to-day job will get me where I want to be.

My storytelling semester includes:

  • IDEO U’s Storytelling for Influence course
  • Humor Writing course by Dave Fox
  • Books: Resonate (Nancy Duarte), Creating Signature Stories (David Aaker), The Storytelling Animal (Jonathan Gottschall)
  • In-person improv class
  • Probably some other stuff I’ll add as I go along

What I hope to do after going through this process twice is being able to recommend a beginner, intermediate, and expert track so anyone can emulate the independent study at a level of commitment that feels comfortable for them. Hell, maybe I’d even suggest pairing up with a friend so you can have discussions and accountability.

Rarely do I think that motivation or a lack of intelligence are the root of holding us back. Or even access, since the internet is so widely available. It’s the lack of a system that recognizes our shortcomings and counters with a plan. I know there’s an endless supply of things to do and look at, but I really believe that investing in our own skills and knowledge is absolutely worth it; not just so we don’t get left behind and become unemployed, but so we can make a positive impact in our communities. It’s on us to make that happen. No one can do it for you.


*The books I read for my focus semester were Focus (Daniel Goleman), The Distracted Mind (Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen), and Deep Work (Cal Newport).

kiran umapathy

Written by

Earth-class human being. http://www.kiran.fyi

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